Recommended reading: May 13th, 2019

Welcome to another week of Recommended Reading! I’m catching up on some great posts after my month of travel, so this is a mix of newish and oldish posts – but all worth a read!

Blind iftar anyone? Meet new people and enjoy iftar with this cool Ramadan concept in Dubai
Gulf News
Ramadan has begun, and Muslims around the world are fasting, reflecting, and celebrating – including many who are expats! This article features a fun concept happening at a housing complex in Dubai, connecting families who host iftar dinners for their non-muslim neighbours to experience and learn about this Ramadan practice. What a lovely way to build community in the diverse expat world.
“When you share food, you share love and the bond grows automatically. Sharing a table gives us time to talk to each other. The Swedish family had so many questions about Islam and Ramadan. They wanted to know why we fast. And I explained that fasting helped us value life, people, food and to not waste. And iftar is the best way of bringing people closer. It was fun, informal and we had a healthy, informative exchange. I cooked traditional Jordanian food”

6 Reasons Short-Term Friendships Are Worth Your Time
Taking Route
Great post summing up a lot of my own thoughts and arguments about why it’s important to invest in relationships wherever you’re living, no matter how short a time you’ll be there. Seriously, if you’ve ever felt that friendship fatigue, that it might not be worth the effort to make new friends AGAIN, then this is a great post to read. And if you’ve never felt that way before, especially as an expat, I can almost guarantee it’ll happen to you one day – so this is still a great read!
“When you’re an expat, it seems like all your friendships start with a timer. How long until one of you moves? Is it really worth putting the time into building a friendship when there’s already an expiration date on the horizon? Wouldn’t it be easier to just keep acquaintances casual, so it’s easier to say goodbye? Having experienced times of short but good friendships, and also times where I eschewed making new friends in favor of a simpler or quieter life, I can give you the answers up front: Yes, investing in a friendship for a short season is worth it. And no, it isn’t easier to spend a year or two without friends, preparing for the day you’ll move again.”

Rediscovering Myself as a TCK
TCK Town
I loved reading this story of a TCK learning what a “TCK” is for the first time! I’ve heard this story from dozens of TCKs around the world – the moment they realised they belonged to a wider tribe of scattered individuals who GET IT. This can be an incredibly powerful realisation!
“My discovery of the concept of the TCK transformed me. After learning about the existence of others like me firsthand, I felt I firmly belonged to a community, a feeling which I had lacked ever since I started to question my identity, and a feeling that I realized was important. I now feel I am not alone and have people like me with whom I can identify. In short, I feel like I am more firmly part of the world. More importantly, after learning about TCKs, I formed a sense of identity. Now I can describe myself as a TCK, who doesn’t necessarily classify as belonging to a single traditional culture but to a particular global community of people who are “citizens of everywhere and nowhere.””

Third Culture Kids Aren’t a Triangle – They’re a Wave
Wine and Cheese (Doodles)
This is a fascinating piece considering the impact of growing up among cultures – from the perspective of a mother wondering how this will affect her TCK children long term. Great reflections, and well worth a read!
“A recent conversation sucked me, feet first, into the black hole of expat doubt. And by doubt, I really mean: “What the hell is going to happen to my kids at the end of this experiment?”. . . They’re soaking in some weird cultural slop, made up of ingredients from our respective cultures, plus the one they live in, plus the stuff they pick up from living in an international community. And so here they are, teetering on this no-citizen’s-land, picking and choosing what they like and getting rid of the rest. Perhaps in an age when we’re increasingly recognizing gender fluidity, cultural fluidity is not far behind? When my kids go to the US for summer breaks, they morph and flow until they find a comfortable wavelength to inhabit. The same when they do when they reside in Denmark. Or when they go to the UK. A while back there was an excellent commentary about expats and immigrants and their life as a triangle; when you no longer fit where you came from, but not exactly where you live either. The more I think about it, the more I believe that triangle is too angular. It’s too rigid. Perhaps instead of a triangle it should be a wave, fluid and ever-changing. Culture, for my kids, is now a spectrum rather than a shape. It’s a wavelength they exist upon, altering as they see fit.”

Keeping Kids Safe
Expat Parenting Abroad
A short post raising an important topic: child safety. What conversations do you have with your children, to help keep them safe despite engaging in different cultures with different cultural norms – different lines for what is considered normal/appropriate behaviour?
“From the outset, let me just state that nothing sinister happened… but there is learning here nonetheless. . . Someone in a trusted position asked my children to keep something from me!!! Our girls, as you are probably well aware by now, have grown up in Asia spending most of their lives in India. And it is well reported, that girls don’t always receive the same respect in India as other countries and the rates of sexual abuse are quite high. When you live there, it’s reported daily in the local newspaper and more often that not the perpetrator is in a position of trust.”

What’s ‘culture’, anyway?
Tertiary
Really appreciated this little reflection on what culture is, and how it impacts our interactions with others. Dani asks good questions, and invites readers to engage with their own experiences.
“The uncomfortable part is that a lot of cultural indicators are subliminal: you might not even realise that you think or behave in a certain way, because it is so deeply ingrained in your experience of life. . . So it’s no wonder moving to a new country, or working in an international company, or marrying into another culture is so hard! We are all human, we are all valuable, and we all function more or less the same way, but we are all wired a little differently. Out cultures have gifted us with different perspectives and traditions and ways of being, and sometimes those cultures contradict. . . But here’s the key. Your culture is not right. It’s not wrong, by any means, but it is human and that means it’s complex. It means it’s changing, evolving, and adapting to the circumstances around it. The same goes for other peoples’ cultures.”

3 Ways to Improve Your Cultural Fluency
Harvard Business Review
And on the topic of culture, here’s an interesting piece looking at the importance of cross-cultural competency in a corporate setting. Good thoughts, and the lessons apply across many sectors.
“Doug worked with his coauthor Jane, a global leadership strategist, to learn how his behaviors reflected the culture in which he was brought up. He learned that his perspective was heavily influenced by being male and by his American-based value system. Doug had been interpreting situations based on his version of “treating people with respect” without a deeper understanding of how those behaviors landed with his audience. . . Over time, he discovered that people from different cultures (in and outside of the U.S.) interpreted his zealous approach as disrespectful. This discovery led to an ongoing exploration of how to shift his behaviors when engaging with colleagues from diverse backgrounds. After a few years, his cultural fluency in leadership visibly improved.”

Expat Story: “Less is More”
Expat Nest
This piece talks about essentialism – like minimalism but different. What are the things that are essential to you physcially, financially, and mentally? What makes your life easier and less stressful? A great idea when facing yet another international move.
“Like many expats, it sometimes feels like my life consists of moving… right now I’m on eight moves and counting! I don’t enjoy the process of moving, even if the end result is living in a great new country. Just the thought of putting every single thing I own, one by one into boxes, and then having to unpack each item again is daunting. Right before my most recent move, however, I discovered something that might seem scary at first, but that helped me through the packing process and even saved me money: essentialism – the little helper that makes the expat’s life easier. As opposed to minimalism, essentialism is all about owning the essentials, not owning as little as humanly possible. So please do not picture an empty white room!”

My Dearest Switzerland
Remfrey Educational Consulting
And to finish, a sweet little letter written by an expat to the country she lives in. This is a great exercise! Perhaps you might like to try it yourself…
“Switzerland, you have made us one of your own. We are truly and completely yours. We promise to continue to learn more about your culinary abundance. We will continue to discover more corners of your overwhelming landscape through hiking and skiing. And most of all, Switzerland, we will continue to enjoy your company every day.”

Dear repatriating TCK

Recently I received a message from an 11 year old TCK. I had spoken at their school and while we didn’t meet, they knew I was talking about TCK stuff and thought I might be able to help them. Soon they will repatriate – return to live in their passport country – after three years abroad. They wrote to me about their mixed feelings regarding the upcoming move, asking for my advice. I’ve decided to share my reply here because I am sure there are plenty of TCKs around the world feeling similar things right now. (To protect privacy I’ve changed the countries involved to my own – China (Beijing) and Australia.)


 

Dear repatriating TCK,

I’m so glad you wrote to me. The way you’re feeling is very normal – a lot of people have been in your position before. You’re right: going “home” after making a home for yourself in a new place is really tricky, and there are a lot of complicated feelings that go with it.

There is a special word for moving to your passport country when you’ve been living somewhere else: it’s called “repatriation”. Repatriation is particularly hard and painful. In fact, for hundreds of TCKs I’ve interviewed, it was the most difficult part of their international lives. That’s because the expectations are different. People in Australia might tell you “welcome home” which might hurt when Beijing also feels like home, and you’ve had to leave it behind. People might not understand how much it means to you. But you’ve spent more than a third of your living memory in Beijing – of course it’s important to you! In a lot of ways you aren’t going “back” at all – you’re starting again in a new place.

You described the process of transitioning to China – how at first you were really sad about everything you left behind, but then gradually this became a place of joy for you, a place you’re glued to. This is really good! It means you’ve been able to enjoy your life here. The process of moving to Australia is going to be similar. At the start it’s going to be really sad, because you now have so much in Beijing that you enjoy, and have to say goodbye to. It will hurt to lose these things.

The pain we feel at saying goodbye is a good sign – it means we love something, or someone. It’s much better to have a life full of love, even though that means it hurts to say goodbye, than to be all alone everywhere you go.

You asked for some advice on how to process all of this. The good news is you’re already doing one of the most important things: you are listening to your feelings. Sometimes our feelings seem too big and overwhelming, so we push them away and try to ignore them. This doesn’t get rid of the feelings – it just creates a bigger pile of them we’ll have to sort out later. Very few things in life are all good or all bad – and the same with this move to Australia. There will be some exciting and happy things, and there will be some sad and painful things. The most important thing you can do is keep feeling those feelings – keep sharing them. Write them down, tell someone about them, draw pictures or sing songs – anything that helps you bring those feelings out in the open.

The next piece of advice I have is to say goodbye well. Take time to think about and say goodbye to all the people and places that have meant something to you in these three years. Say “thank you” to everyone, and everything, that has made Beijing a good experience for you. Sometimes you might actually say this out loud, or write it in a goodbye card. Sometimes it will be enough to take time on your own to think about and be thankful for each thing. Make sure you visit your favourite places, and eat your favourite foods. When you do, remember how much they have meant to you. Take photos of “ordinary” things, so you can remember them later. A photo of your street, your favourite noodle shop, the view from your window – anything that holds memories.

My last piece of advice is about what to do when you get to Australia. You will probably miss Beijing (your friends, your school, your whole life!) for quite a while after you arrive. When that happens, don’t forget that it was the same when you arrived in Beijing. It’s totally normal to be sad about the things you’ve lost. You are going to have new experiences and make new friends living in Australia, but that doesn’t mean you stop being sad about the people you left behind. The goal, however, is to start making new connections in Australia, so you can start to feel joy there and glue yourself to this new life. You don’t have to forget Beijing, and the people who matter to you, but at the same time, make space for new people to become important to you. It won’t happen immediately, but eventually you’ll find yourself living a new life that also makes you happy.

There’s one other thing I want to say. You said you thought you preferred Australia over China, but now you’re not so sure. The thing about living in different places is that ALL those places matter to us. It can be hard to choose one over another. But you don’t have to – you are allowed to have space in your heart for more than one place. And it’s okay if the way you feel about each place changes over time. You might be “from” Australia, but you have lived in China as well, and that makes it an important place to you.

I hope this helps you as you get ready to leave. Please write back any time, with any questions you have.

Tanya

Recommended reading: April 22nd, 2019

Welcome to another week of Recommended Reading! This week includes some great posts for young adult TCKs, and for those parenting TCKs of all ages.

Your Story Makes Sense
Life Story Therapies
Once again, Rachel hits the nail on the head with this wonderful post. So many TCKs learn to compartmentalise their lives. They separate all the pieces that only seem to make sense in particular contexts. This makes it hard to put together an integrated sense of self.
“Many Third Culture Kids have lived lives of staggering contrasts – poor here, rich there – face fits here, but language fits there – materially or experientially ‘lucky’, but experiencing so much loss. These contrasts can confound our attempts to make sense of our Selves. We tell our Stories haltingly, watching all the time for cues that our listener ‘gets it’. More often than not, we learn that somehow our Story alienates, alarms or confuses the people around us. And so we learn to partition the whole into discrete chapters – this one makes sense over here, that one makes sense over there. We learn who we are in relationship. The inter-personal acquaints us with the intra-personal. So it follows that the more fractured our relationships, the more fractured our sense of self risks becoming. If our story doesn’t make sense to others, we may begin to feel it doesn’t make sense to us either.”

Dear Young Adult TCK, What is the price of adapting?
TCK Training
This open letter to a Young Adult TCK is a perfect follow up to Lauren’s post on the “hidden shame” of TCKs (which I linked to in a previous recommended reading). Her point is that adaptation, while a great trait, is often masking a fear (or shame) that tells a TCK they need to be perfect. But what TCKs really need is to learn it’s okay to fail, it’s okay to ask for help, and that reaching out like this actually results in DEEPER relationships.
“If your goal is to look like you fit in, to look like you know what to do, to look like you are confidently and competently navigating the culture, then you are simply striving to portray and uphold an image. Not only is this exhausting, but it often prevents true connection and support… One of the greatest gifts for a TCK is finding people with whom they don’t need to put on a flawless show of brilliant adaptability. But, I don’t think the challenge is necessarily finding these people. The challenge is overcoming the shame that says that reaching out to them is weakness. So, I challenge you. Consider the reason behind your ever-adapting nature. Then, humbly take advantage of the resources available to help you find your people – the people who will get to know the you underneath your adapting-self. I know it’s hard, but you can do it. After all, us TCKs are always up for a good challenge.”

Resisting the Expat Bubble
It is Real
A lovely piece by an expat mum on the balancing act of raising her young TCKs with a connection to the local culture they live in. Connecting with local culture in meaningful ways is hard – it takes time and effort and, most of all, getting out of our comfort zones. Interacting in another language and culture isn’t comfortable!
“Learning Chinese will seem a whole lot more purposeful when my children are put in situations where they actually have to use it. They need more consistent contact with Chinese people… I try and ensure that we are out having authentic contact with Chinese people and experiencing the city. We take public transport and the girls say, “Ni hao” to random people on the bus. While it’s more convenient and requires a lot less brain power to just hang with my expat friends, I sense that my experience in China will be so much richer if I resist the temptation to retreat into the expat bubble. I’ve been surprised by how much Chinese my kids have learned from me… having my kids mimic my Chinese has made me think about how my actions and attitudes to life in China might impact them.”

Inner Onion Layers
TCK Town
Here is a short piece from a TCK point of view, and I love the image of the Friendship Expiry Date Elephant in every room. There are different ways of reacting to the Friendship Expiry Date Elephant, but it is an experience that most TCKs resonate with, and have had to find an accommodation with.
“As a TCK, moving from one city to another, I developed the ability to make friends quickly. Because of the transitory nature of our lives, we did not have the luxury that time offered typical friendships to evolve and grow organically. Never knowing how long someone would be around before leaving for another city was like having a proverbial friendship Expiry Date Elephant following us from room to room. Goodbyes became harder each time and eventually, I would hold these whirlwind friendships at arm’s length in an attempt to lessen the blow. It was an unspoken understanding between us. Make no mistake, these were not fake friendships to help the time pass. These friendships grew deep roots, fertilized by the urgency of time and flourishing at such a rate that you couldn’t help but guard yourself against their impending expirations.”

The Art Of Goodbye
TCK Town
Here’s another piece from TCK Town, this time on the topic of goodbyes. There are so many bittersweet moments in a life marked by transience. Goodbyes are never easy, and feeling the weight of them, over and over, is wearying. Understanding the impact of goodbyes is essential to living life well as an ATCK. We must all find our accommodations, our ways to learn to live with the goodbyes. We have to find the beauty even as we allow ourselves to feel the brokenness.
“I was elated to see him and my other friends graduate; proud of them for finishing their degree and excited for the endless possibilities their lives contained. I was also heartbroken that they were leaving. Mostly, though, I was grateful that our lives have crossed paths to begin with. That day, I watched the commencement ceremony online, not because there wasn’t enough room in the auditorium but because goodbyes are extremely difficult for me. I wasn’t there, not because I didn’t care, but because I cared too much.”

Commentary: Take time to listen to military kids during moves, deployments
DVIDS
Great piece from a military parent on an essential skill for parents of families in transition: stopping to really listen to your kids. Their lives are full of both ups and downs, and in the midst of it all what they really need is you.
“Do military children have bad days? Of course. Do they have times when they’re sick of moving? I’m sure of it. But one of the great things about what military children generally go through is that they go through it, and grow through it, together.
Still, we as parents have a responsibility to acknowledge our children’s hurts from the difficulty of a move or deployment. We owe it to them to listen — actively, without distractions. . . I recognized I had wrongfully assumed my son should just get through it. These days, I am learning to slow down a bit, put work-related stressors on the back burner a little longer, and engage in my son’s world more often.”

Few things teach resilience like being a military child
The News Tribune
And here’s another great piece from a different military parent, reflecting on the struggles their children go through, and the resilience this can build. I especially appreciated her reflections on the many ways changing schools can affect a child – more than I could include in a short excerpt! A great read, for any family going through frequent transitions.
“The school might misinterpret a girl’s transcript, placing her in the wrong level of math, then changing her schedule three months into the year, requiring another round of starting over socially. A boy might know histories of four states and learn the same science curriculum two years in a row because of varying requirements. She only gets to see extended family every few years because she is stationed on the other side of the country, or ocean. He wonders whether to tell Mom how sad he is Dad is deployed, but doesn’t want to add to Mom’s stress… But what doesn’t crush their souls ultimately makes military kids strong. If they’re lucky, they encounter peers who are open to new friendships. If they stay long enough, they gradually build acquaintances into affection. At the very least, they learn how to adapt and endure. They’ve benefited from (or survived) five ways of teaching reading and four styles of coaching basketball. They know if one approach to a problem doesn’t work, another might.”

Should You Let Go of an Old Friendship if You’ve Grown Apart?
Thrive Global
A really insightful piece about the nature of friendships, and how they change over time. I talk a lot in my seminars about the fact that friendships change as we move through life, and about those changes being natural. This concepts of inner and outer circles is a great way to explain the shifts over time – and help explain why there’s no need for guilt over changing relationships, or to cut ties with friends completely, even if you don’t see them often.
“Through our lifespan it’s perfectly natural for different friends to move in and out of our inner circle. So my guess is that you need to change your inner circle rather than dumping the old friends. Everyone else in your life can fit on one of the outer circles. And since the relationships can shift around, someone who was once very intimate might now belong in your outer circles. Even though you’ll have less time, energy, and attention going in their direction, you still value them and want them in your life. . . So while it’s perfectly natural for you to feel that the friends from your past are irrelevant to your present, unless these relationships are actually toxic, I would caution you from completely disconnecting from them. It’s good to have all kinds of friends. We can be enriched by people in our larger circles, even when we may not have all that much in common.”

When this Expat thing gets too much – 5 Self Help Tips
Making Here Home
Lots of good solid advice for self-care in the difficult seasons of expat life.
“It is very easy to want to curl up and hide. But staying home and hiding away is not a good idea; the less you go out, the harder it is to go out. Go for a walk, explore the area where you live; admittedly this has been a lot easier in Europe than it was in Asia where it was so hot and humid even going for a short walk was hard. But the point is getting out there. It’s in discovering places and interacting with people that we start to build our new mental map of wherever it is we are living. There is a sense of pride in finding a new coffee shop just down the road, or a nearby park, or a street vendor that sells the best pineapple. And those simple human interactions with people – a hello to a fellow dog walker, passing the time of day with the cashier at your local shop – can be like little sparks of joy.”

Wait, You Too?
Tertiary
I’m finishing with a short little post by a TCK who captures what can be so powerful about this whole concept: not being “labelled” as a TCK, but finding others who share aspects of your experience.
“I spent most of my teenage years (and a little of my adult life) wrestling with insecurities: I was never Scottish enough to be Scottish, and never Latina enough to be Latina. I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere, like I’d been made wrong, and that I would never be able to fit in. I remember one day at university broaching that subject with a British-born Korean friend. She looked at me wide-eyed for a second, then said, “Wait, you too?””

Lessons from a Third Culture childhood, part 3: after “everyone leaves”

My first post in this series explored a “lesson” TCKs learn through growing up internationally: that everyone leaves. Next, I paused to address a very common response: “what about the internet?” The internet allows for relationships to be maintained long-distance, which is so very helpful! But it doesn’t actually solve the underlying problem.

Now in part three, I am finally (delayed due to a month of ill health) getting to the “solutions”. Only after we stop to really hear the sadness TCKs experience can we start talking about what happens after everyone leaves. With that foundation under us, I’m going to work through a few ideas that can be helpful for anyone dealing with the life lesson that “everyone leaves”. The bottom line is this: you can’t change the past, but you can choose what sort of future to build. Understanding what we think, and learning new ways of thinking, can make a huge difference in this regard.

Change, transition, and goodbyes

While the focus of this post is dealing with the aftermath – the life lesson encoded from a childhood full of goodbyes – it’s worth taking a moment to consider what to do in the thick of things. It’s important to understand the relationship between change and transition, and the impact transition has on our daily lives – whether we stay or go. Understanding this process, leaving space for it, and practicing self-compassion during it, goes a long way toward encouraging future healing and growth.

Saying good goodbyes is also really important. I’ll write a full post about this at some point, but as a summary thought – anything that matters (a person, animal, place, group) is worth saying goodbye to. Any relatiosnhip that will be changed, any routine that will be lost, is worth marking. There are lots of ways to do this (parties, gifts, memory books, photos, last visits, etc.) but it can also be an internal process. I can stop and recognise the importance of each person/place, expressing sadness and gratitude, any time – even after the fact, even years later, when a good goodbye was not said at the time. This is especially helpful when a family moves unexpectedly – for both the ones who leave, and the ones left behind.

Living “everyone leaves” long term

What I really want to focus on in this post is what to do later in life, when the lesson that “everyone leaves” has sunk in and affects the way I think and act. As I’ve listened to and mentored young adult TCKs in particular (especially as I start preparation for my next book) I’ve found a few tools that help us reframe our thoughts – and take control of the future. Taking time to consciously understand how these very valid past hurts impact our present-day reactions allows us to stop the past from stealing the future.

Saying goodbye sucks. Losing friends sucks. There’s no point sugar-coating that. The reality of change and loss can be painful, and it can’t be changed. The past is what it is. But staying in that place of pain, and the helplessness and hopelessness that often goes with it, doesn’t change the past. We must acknowledge the truth of our lives. But we don’t have to be ruled by it forever. We get to choose what happens next.

Sunk costs

In business there is a term for money you’ve already paid: a “sunk cost”. It is money you can’t get back. You’ve already paid the rent, bought the inventory, paid the salary – whatever it is, good decision or bad, it’s done. The question now has to be what is the best way forward, given that you can’t get the “sunk cost” back. This rule means that sometimes the best decision for a business is to sell old inventory at a loss – because that’s better that having it take up space in a warehouse. Let me use a mundane example to explain. Imagine you’re at a restaurant, and having eaten 3/4 of your meal you are feeling very full. Part of your brain is saying you should eat the rest because you’ve already paid for it! A “sunk cost” mentality says that you pay the same price for the meal no matter how much you eat, that the money is already spent. So, would you enjoy the meal more by stopping now, or by making yourself sick eating too much? Forget what you can’t change, and make the best decision starting from now. Perhaps you can take the small leftover portion home to be a snack later. But even if that’s not possible, eating it all in order not to leave waste may not be the best decision.

I’ve found sunk costs an extremely helpful concept in my personal life. Something has already happened in my life. I can’t change that. So what am I going to do about it? I don’t need to “fix” something that’s already happened. Blaming myself for a bad decision, or blaming someone else for causing me pain, doesn’t change the situation I find myself in. Instead, I can look ahead and decide what to do next.

When it comes to the “everyone leaves” lesson, we can’t change what has happened. We can only decide what is the best way forward, all things being as they are. Yes, I have experienced many goodbyes, and that hurt. But what sort of life do I want from now on? What choices will help me build that sort of future?

Change happens

Change is a part of life everywhere – you can’t insulate yourself against it, no matter what you do. You may decide you want to settle down in one place for the rest of your life, to minimise the potential for change and loss. But anywhere in the world, your best friend might choose to move away, perhaps without warning. No matter what you do, you can’t eliminate change. To be happy and healthy moving forward, therefore, you must find a way to cope with change.

Some people want to be the one who initiates change, so they are in control of it. They may move frequently, change jobs, or locations. One adult TCK told me that she had lived in the same town (with her husband and two kids) for six years, but in five different houses. Most of those moves happened simply because she wanted to move. She would find a better area, look for a better house. It took her years to realise she felt uncomfortable staying put for too long; when work kept them in one place, moving house helped soothe her itchy feet. Having recognised this, she wanted to try addressing the underlying feelings, but in the mean time she was pleased she had found a compromise that worked for her – that kept her living in the same city, not running away.

Another ATCK finds moving stressful, but still has a deep desire to see the world. So he and his wife travel frequently, but always come home to the same house.

I think the important part of this isn’t how I cope with change, but that I do cope with change. That I am able to face my feelings about change, and make conscious choices about how to respond to those feelings – not be controlled by fears I avoid. Each of us needs to acknowledge that change happens, and we can’t avoid that – but it doesn’t mean
we don’t have choices.

Pick your poison

Many TCKs I’ve talked with over the years have laid out the two choices they have: either go through the horrible pain of saying goodbye over and over, or don’t invest deeply in people to begin with. For many, avoiding deep relationships seems like the obvious and logical choice. The problem is that it’s not a choice between pain or no pain, it’s a choice between two different kinds of pain.

Yes, getting close to people only to have to say goodbye, over and over, is painful. But going through life without those close friendships, without people who know you, without anyone to share life with, is also painful.

So this is the real choice: either enjoy the beauty of friendship while you can, and pay the price in grief when someone moves away, or swap that sharp pain for the constant dull ache of feeling isolated and unknown. There is pain either way. But one path leads to relational connection – pain with gain. The other leads to isolation – a more lonely and sad kind of pain.

Faced with the reality of this choice, most of us instinctively understand the benefit of continuing to take the risk of investing in people.

And THIS is where the internet comes in

Maintaining friendships via the internet helps with a middle ground here. There is still the grief when a friend moves, or something happens and I’m not there in person. Tthere is still the ache of not sharing everyday life. And yet, an ongoing bond through different life circumstances (in different countries!) can be rich and rewarding. My own best friend and I have only spent two of our 13 years of friendship in the same country. We both travelled across oceans to be in each other’s weddings. We come from different passport countries but have each visited the other’s family home, met parents and siblings.

I’ve had to grieve the changes in our relationship many times. But each time, I knew it was worth continuing to invest in her, and in our friendship.

This is the bottom line: you can’t go back. you can only go forward. Take the time to acknowledge hurts and grieve losses – then move forward.  Make choices about where you want to go, and who you want to be, rather than what you want to avoid. Invest in people, even though it means investing in harder goodbyes. Work out what you want from life, and start building toward that.

You can’t change the past – but you can make choices about what happens next.

Lessons from a Third Culture childhood, part 2: what about the internet?

In part one of this series, I explained the lesson “everyone leaves”. This is something most TCKs “learn” through their experiences growing up internationally. I chose to leave space at the end of the piece to reflect on how this “lesson” affects TCKs, rather than jump straight to solutions. When we skip straight to “it’ll be okay” we don’t stop to sit with TCKs in their sadness and grief. We miss the opportunity to act as witnesses, to listen, to say that their feelings about this are valid. It’s hard to listen to pain, so we don’t often take enough time to wait in that place. I wanted to create space, to honour the sadness, even in blog posts.

Now it’s time for part 2 – but I’m not jumping into the solutions just yet! In the next post of this series I will talk about how TCKs can grow beyond the sadness of “everyone leaves”, what other lessons there are to be learned, and how friends and family can support TCKs in this learning and growth. But first I’ve decided to address something else:

What about the internet?

A really common response I hear from parents, and even older ATCKs, is that with the internet and social media, TCKs these days can stay in touch with their friends after a move. It’s not the same, but surely it makes things easier. A lot of TCKs I interviewed for Misunderstood had heard this, too. There’s a few problems with this idea, and I want to break them down.

The internet doesn’t erase loss

Most of the time these comments aren’t comforting for TCKs. It makes them feel that they aren’t supposed to grieve, or that they shouldn’t show their sadness. The ability to stay in touch after a move doesn’t take away the sadness of losing that person from their daily life. And there’s no guarantee, even with the internet. When a child says goodbye to a friend, they don’t yet know what that friendship will look like on the other side of the move – whether it will continue or not, whether they will ever see their friend in person again or not. Sometimes there will be reunions, but not always. It is so important for TCKs to be able to grieve friendships that change or are lost. Their feelings of sadness are real and valid and need to be expressed – and are worth listening to.

“‘Graduation’ was a word that most people in my grade did not want to say, because ‘graduation’ meant ‘goodbye’. I used to say this a lot to my parents but they just kept telling me that “back in my day we only had snail mail and you guys get email and Facebook and so many other opportunities to stay in touch.” I gave up trying to make my point – it’s not the same. If home is where the heart is then after we all graduate my home will be in Korea and America and other places I’ve never been to, because that’s where my friends will be.”
Katherine, as quoted in Misunderstood

It’s not the same

Friendship online is different to friendship in person, for many reasons. Also, not everyone is good at online connection. It relies on a different set of interpersonal skills, and sometimes a friendship that is amazing in person just doesn’t translate that well to long-distance. Lots of TCKs hold onto the hope that staying in touch online means they’re not really saying goodbye. It doesn’t end well. I’ve heard so many stories of ways TCKs struggle with delayed grief – because they thought staying in touch online would erase the problem. One mother told me she learned to expect the sadness to hit her son a year after being left behind. A teenage boy spoke to me of being deeply hurt by a friend not investing as much in maintainging their friendship online. A young adult woman found she was offending friends; she learned to tell herself this wasn’t really goodbye, so she didn’t have to be emotional about it. When a person leaves, the friendship as it has been ends. A new friendship can be negotiated thanks to the wonders of the internet, but it will be a NEW friendship. There is still sadness is losing what was, even when there is a continuation of connection.

“I had to say goodbye to a close friend knowing I would not see her for at least five years. I missed her so much. Immediately after she left, I could not make new friends. I think I was still sore from the goodbye. I still talk to her online but it really isn’t the same. I do believe I will see her again, although I know the relationship will never be the same. A lot can happen in five years, and people change.”
Joy, as quoted in Misunderstood

It’s not just one person

We’re not talking about one or two friends moving away – we’re talking about one or two a year. Or more. No matter how much time and energy you invest in online relationships, there will always be people you don’t keep up with. There’s just no way to stay in touch with that many people, especially if you’re also working hard to build new connections in person. While having the ability to stay in touch via the internet is amazing, and so good for TCKs, it also adds complications. The more time I spend investing in friends online, the less time I can spend investing in people nearby. And while it’s so valuable to stay in touch with friends who used to live nearby, it’s also important to continue building new relationships. The friends I stay in touch with from previous locations know certain parts of me, have shared certain parts of my life. But if I don’t invest in new relationships, I won’t have friends who knew THIS part of my life.

“People who haven’t moved as much or as far do not understand that it is usual for TCKs to have more than one best friend. They are my best friend in this circumstance and this location.”
Callie, as quoted in Misunderstood

Who is in control?

Remember that we’re talking about children. They don’t have full control over their lives and ability to connect. Younger children especially can’t just stay in touch, because the ability to do so is filtered through their parents, and their friends’ parents. TCKs are heavily dependent on their parents to support the maintenance of friendships with people in other places. And even with parents’ support, it’s not always that simple. Time differences can make it really hard to coordinate schedules. Perhaps a TCK is living in an area without reliable internet access – or her friend is. Plus, I have heard many internet-age TCKs tell stories in which a friend moved away with little or no warning, and was never heard from again – especially if they were in primary school at the time. Staying in touch via the internet is great in theory, but it doesn’t always happen in practice – and TCKs often don’t have much control over that.

“Friendships maintained online helped and still help me a great deal. They served as a way to reminisce and share in the processes and challenges of life with other TCKs. My parents have been very gracious with making opportunities for me to visit friends – this includes driving long(ish) distances, being willing to host friends, and encouraging me to keep in contact. They make a point to ask about the lives of my friends who live far away who I talk to. I would encourage TCKs to be consistent and keep in contact with their friends online and through texting. But don’t let those relationships be the only ones, because they can take away from building relationships in person.”
Becca, as quoted in Misunderstood

The internet: worth it, but not without complications

A Third Culture childhood is a good thing overall, for most kids in most situations, but it is not without difficulties and complications. Erasing mention of hard things doesn’t solve the difficulties. The internet is a tool, and a good thing overall, for most kids in most situations. But it doesn’t solve the problem of how frequent goodbyes through childhood affect a person. It adds different opportunities, and also complications. It changes what goodbye looks like. But it doesn’t erase the underlying lesson, that “everyone leaves”.

Lessons from a Third Culture childhood, part 1: Everyone leaves

As promised, I’m starting a series that looks a little more deeply at the two key lessons from a TCK childhood which I wrote about for China Source.

The experience of living overseas as a child is very different to the experience of living overseas as an adult. The impact of childhood experiences last a lifetime. They are formative experiences – they teach us how the world works. We all internalise ‘lessons’ from our childhood experiences.

TCKs grow up between cultures, learning lessons from more than one cultural viewpoint. Often these messages contradict one another, and learning to navigate this conflict is part of what makes a TCK. The lessons they learn about how the world works, therefore, often come less from individual cultures and more from the fact that they juggle more than one cultural viewpoint. The experience of being “in between” greatly affects their understanding of the world.

As I interviewed hundreds of TCKs there were a lot of repeated themes, and even specific phrases, that became familiar. These were the lessons these TCKs had learned through their childhood experiences. In this post I’m introducing one of the most common lessons of a TCK childhoood: everyone leaves.

Everyone leaves

I heard the exact phrase “everyone leaves” in scores of interviews. Even when a TCK lived in one place a long time (even their whole childhood) most did not live fully immersed lives in their host culture, and were therefore affected by the mobility of other expatriates. That is to say, if TCKs didn’t move on themselves, they watched many of their friends leave. On top of this, most TCKs make trips to visit family in other countries, where they reconnect and then have to say goodbye. Or they attend conferences with their parents’ organisations, where they have friends they make and farewell every year. The end result is that goodbyes form part of the background of a TCK childhood.

It can be hard for adults to really internalise what this feels like for kids – how it shapes them. Perhaps a story will help. When leading sessions on transition with students, I ask how many times a close friend has moved away from them. Not just an acquaintance or classmate, but someone they felt close to. I get a lot of wide eyes and dropped jaws – how can anyone expect me to tally that number?? Some just roll their eyes and refuse to even try. One 10 year old lifted both hands and started opening and closing his fingers, representing an ongoing and endless number. One time, a 5th grade girl got a very determined look on her face – she was intent on counting to an exact number. She kept going while the class moved on to discuss another question. When she lifted her head again, I turned back to her and asked if she had her number. “Yes,” she answered, “it’s 23.” Before even finishing primary school, this girl had said goodbye to 23 people she felt close to.

Reacting to this lesson

There are several quite rational responses to this experience. Some TCKs try to avoid the sadness of goodbyes, by denying that the goodbyes are real or painful. Others try to create emotional distance to blunt the pain.

“I lived with a mentality that ‘everyone leaves’. I just recently moved off to college and I had a really close friend get mad at me for pushing her away and trying to do anything I could to minimize the hurt I knew was coming. Honestly I still expect us to eventually lose touch anyway because people move on. That’s all I’ve ever known.” – Maddie, as quoted in Misunderstood

“I never feel sad until a half hour before the person I know leaves. It hurts too much, so I numb myself to the pain, block it out, and refuse to think about it until it’s actually happening.” – Faith, as quoted in Misunderstood

Some TCKs decide it’s not worth the pain to invest in relationships, especially if they know a goodbye is imminent – such as when they will be leaving soon, or the other person will. “Soon” being anywhere from six months to two years. Another common reaction is a highly developed ability to connect superficially – to be warm and friendly and welcoming – while holding back their deeper selves. There is great vulnerability in sharing my whole self when I know that the deeper a relationship gets, the more it will hurt when the (inevitable) goodbye comes.

“I didn’t want to devote myself to new friendships because I knew it would just be another goodbye at the end of the six months.” – Eve, as quoted in Misunderstood

“I remember feeling ‘popular’ but looking back, the majority of my friendships were quite shallow and superficial. I did not open myself up to the different possible friendships I could have had. I did not properly invest time or emotions in my ‘friends’. I was prepared to say goodbye to those people from day one.” – Siyin, as quoted in Misunderstood

Other TCKs dive deep into relationships as quickly as possible because they don’t know how long they have. This can create friction outside non-international circles, as they may come across as too eager, or be labelled as too intense.

Whatever method a TCK develops to help deal with the emotional stress of goodbyes, the commonality is that this is an essential survival skill for them. The goodbyes and the losses that go with them can be very overwhelming to a child, especially because it is the only experience they know.

Looking for hope

I feel the urge to switch to something hopeful here, so I don’t depress you! But please stick with me a minute longer, as I offer a sobering reflection – to help understand how the “everyone leaves” lessons affects TCKs who don’t yet know there is any other way to experience the world.

Imagine you are 9 years old, and every year of your life you have said goodbye to a close friend, and had to make a new friend. In your world, friends only last a year or two. Is it really worth the effort this time?

Imagine you are 13 years old, and you’ve learned the skill of being warm and friendly and fitting into yet another new circle of friends, but you doubt it’s possible to be truly known by any one person. Am I going to be lonely forever?

Imagine you are 17 years old, your best friend is moving to another country, and this time you’re desperate not to lose them. You think about all the ways to stay in touch and plan around time zones, trying hard to ignore the sinking feeling that it won’t be the same.

How hopeful would you feel, as you look ahead?

Every child’s experience is different, but the weight of having to keep building new friendships, and negotiating long-distance friendships, is something most TCKs experience to some degree.

Losing friends hurts – and that’s okay

The best first step for helping TCKs, especially when they are young, is to validate feelings of loss. Instead of saying “Don’t worry, you’ll make new friends” a far more helpful thing is to say “You’re right, this is really hard. It won’t always feel this way, but right now it’s totally okay to feel sad or angry.” Instead of telling them things you hope will make them feel better, ask them questions that invite them to share how they feel right now.

Listening to a child’s hurt is HARD – it’s painful to hear! But it is one of the greatest gifts we can offer them. Listening well says “I see you. I hear you. The way you feel is valid. You’re allowed to be sad, and you’re allowed to tell me about it.”

I plan to write more in future about how to help TCKs with this, but for now I want to stop here, with the truth that losing friends hurt – and that’s okay. We hurt because we’re losing something that matters. It’s a good thing to attach to someone enough that it hurts to lose them. None of us can “fix” the pain of losing a friend. I can’t change that this friend is moving away, or that our company is moving us away, or any of the circumstances that cause a child the pain of loss. I can’t fix it. But every time I talk to groups of TCKs about this, they share that they don’t actually want someone to fix it. They know it can’t be fixed – and they don’t like adults acting as if it can be. They just want someone (especially their parents) to listen to them, and say it’s okay to be sad.

And that is something we can do.

__________

In part 2, I consider a common response to “everyone leaves” – namely, “what about the internet“?

Recommended reading: September 3rd, 2018

My latest collection of recommended posts about expatriate life and Third Culture Kids. This week includes topics such as transition, self care, identity, and ordinary expat life.

Dear Parents Launching Your Third Culture Kids
Djibouti Jones
A beautiful piece from the always lovely Rachel, this time describing the emotional storm of dropping her twin TCKs off at university – and leaving them there.
You feel alone. You look at the other parents, the ones who live in the same city or the same state or the same country and you are jealous or angry or feeling protective. You think no one understands all the questions and losses and griefs and fears racing through your mind and heart. You’re confused because no one told you raising TCKs would end up here, would end up with you on the other side of the ocean finally appreciating what you’ve put your own parents through all these years abroad. No one told you this would be harder than moving abroad in the first place.”

Never just a curry
Jo Parfitt
I love this! Food is so powerful – a memory trigger, a comfort, and so relational. In this post, Jo traces her family’s history of curry, across countries and continents – to the excitement of a new discovery.
For most of our 30 years of marriage, ask us what our favourite food is and we’d say Arabic without pausing for thought. But this week it hit me. It’s time we changed our answer – to Indian curry even though we have never lived there. I have not even visited. Curry has been a red thread through our lives abroad.

Football, Children, and Culture: Not Just a Game
Multicultural Kid Blogs
In this post a mother of TCKs talks about creating memories for her sons that connect them to the country that formed her, a country they have not lived in. A lovely read.
There are so many memories wrapped up in Watford football matches for me. And as I sit next to each of my sons on the terraces where those memories were made I am carefully unwrapping some of them and passing them to my sons for safe keeping. At the same time, my dad and I are making childhood memories for my sons – ones they will never forget. . . It’s hard for my children to imagine I had a life elsewhere before I ‘turned Dutch’. These trips are a small window into that life. They see the town I used to live in, they see a part of the life I had before I moved to the Netherlands and became their mother. They get a glimpse of the culture that has formed me, and them too.

6 Essential Practices for Hard-to-Reach Stressors
World Tree Coaching
Another great post from Jodi, this time exploring background stress and what we can do about it. This all rings very true for me at the moment! Life overseas pretty much IS background stress. There are so many little things that are different or difficult, so many small uncertanties and stressors, and they all add up. Background stress is one of those things we slowly adjust to until we’re drowning and don’t quite know why. The self reflection required to keep on top of this, to recognise the background stress of life in a different setting, takes a lot of conscious effort.
To deal with the challenges that hit at our egos, our values and our sense of purpose – it’s important to develop habits of self-reflection and insight. Taking the time to look more closely at who we are and how we fit in the world can be difficult. Sometimes the effort can feel daunting. We may not be sure we’ll like what we find there. On the other hand, deep down most of us know it’s important to do this type of inner work so that we can grow and develop into our full selves. One way to cultivate a more reflective state is to develop practices that naturally foster paying attention to our experiences. These skills can help us turn towards what’s going on inside and around us, giving us more information about the source of background stress.

Staying Healthy Overseas: Emotional and Mental Wellness
Taking Route
This is another good post in the same vein – looking after ourselves well enough to not only get through life but actually enjoy it, expat bumps and all.
It is easy to get burnt out while living overseas. I know that, you know that, but are we doing enough to make sure we don’t get burnt out? The answer for me is almost always “no.”…This article is not really a guide on how to do wellness overseas as much as it is a letter to myself to prioritize my emotional and mental wellness while living abroad.”

Redefining French Identity
The Parent Voice
This is a really interesting post – a story and reflections on identity, translated into English alongside the original French. Anissa talks about her experience of identity – two passports, from Canada and Tunisia, and being born in France but never having had French citizenship. She talks about the chameleon and the salamander as metaphors for changeable identity. For her the chameleon adapts by blending in, whereas the salamander cuts away pieces. She also talks about active vs passive – when I make the choice to adapt myself, rather than changing in response to the perceptions of others.

Simple pleasures: grocery shopping
Stories from Tanya
And finally, I’m sharing something from my other (more ordinary) blog, where I recently started writing again after a two year hiatus. I realised that this particular post is the sort of thing I would share as recommended reading if I read it elsewhere, so I figured I’d add it to the list this week! In it I deconstruct a trip to my local Chinese market, and why the experience was relaxing for me. It touches on transition, language, culture, and stopping to appreciate the lovely in ordinary life.
I don’t like standing out as a stranger, but I don’t mind so much when it happens less randomly. If I’m interacting with someone for a separate reason, and they remark on my foreign-ness and command of Mandarin, that doesn’t irritate me. Most of the time, I enjoy these little interactions. The person is not encroaching on my existence, they are sharing it for the moment that we are involved in a task together. . .I succeeded in being a local member of my community, for a few minutes on a sunny Monday morning.

Recommended reading: August 6th, 2018

My latest collection of recommended posts about expatriate life and Third Culture Kids.

Thoughts on Citizenship from Around the World
Velvet Ashes
Really interesting piece, which collects four vignettes from different women around the world reflecting on their experiences of citizenship – as affected by expatriate living, cross-cultural relationships, and adoption. I particularly like this little thought, which resonates with many conversations I’ve had during interviews:
I was becoming part of the fabric of life here in a way that just sticking to my role would never have achieved. And isn’t that part of being a citizen? Beyond passports and visas, I realized I started to feel like a citizen of this place when I began to be invested beyond my little niche.

The Labeling of Self
TCK Town
This is a fascinating, uncomfortable, important piece of reflection. It largely follows a conversation among a group of expatriates from various countries, as they negotiate ethnic labels and how they do or don’t self-identify, and who they do and don’t include in those identity umbrellas. It makes me stop and think. Something that international life has provoked for me is the way I have included people in umbrellas they don’t identify with, how easily I can make assumptions about others’ experiences. This piece sits in that discomfort, and invites readers to listen, and reflect on their own use of labels.
We all came out of the park with our egos a little bruised and worse for wear. Instead of peeking into our sandwiches, we had spent the hour delving into conceptions and misconceptions of labeling our identities.

Ex expats from NL: Dutch repatriates – how does it feel to be home?
Dutch News
An interesting piece on repatriates to the Netherlands, with quotes from several repats with different stories. They share different difficulties they’ve experienced, that will ring true with many expats/repats.
“People who’ve lived abroad for a long time, she explains, learn to look at the world from a different perspective. ‘You have seen a lot. That uproots you from your own country.’”

Phoenix Rising: Reflection on Expat Resilience and Health Crisis Abroad
I Am A Triangle
An interesting piece reflecting on a patient experiencing a health crisis while abroad. Carolyn uses one person’s experience as a springboard to consider the emotional resilience for expatriates generally. It is a longer piece, with several sections looking at different aspects of the experience of coping with this sort of situation. These include self-care, emotional support, multi-faceted healing, and adaptation.
Normal emotional and stresses that come with illness or injury are compounded by his being so far from loved ones and by his difficulty communicating with healthcare personnel. He misses his three children and the normal routines they share together. Creating a support system doesn’t happen organically for him in this setting. The language barrier prevents the casual rapport-building that would normally take place between strangers brought together by a common denominator. He misses the simplicity of these types of human connections and consciously searches out other English-speakers within the hospital.

Dear Dubai, Can We Please Part as Friends?
And Then We Moved To
Mariam pens a break-up letter to Dubai, her home of the past four years. It is sweet, thoughtful, emotional, and insightful. It starts like this:
Dear Dubai, If you and I were in a relationship on Facebook, I’d choose the relationship status “it’s complicated.” You know it and I know it. We have had a love/hate relationship since day one, and four years later, its still messy to describe my feelings for you or the way I affectionately refer to you…

Tips for Strengthening Families in Transition
Our Goodwin Journey
This post is written by a missionary and so there are a few assumptions from that perspective, but the general content is really helpful for all families experiencing transition. There are practical ideas, covering topics such as being proactive, dealing with emotions, and maintaining relational focus.
“For our family, we all sense the next transition and begin feeling the effects about 2 months prior to the move. We all feel the emotions building. We all experience the mixed mental challenges of being here and being there at the same time. So many decisions, goodbyes, frustrations, to-do lists and challenges come into play each day through a cross cultural move. Stress rises, tensions escalate and tears flow. Random meltdowns for kids and parents alike are normal for families in transition…But what can we all do to help families in transition get through the moving season in healthy, good ways?”

The Expat Blues
The Expat Mummy
One “trailing spouse” wife and mother reflects on the depression and purposelessness that can strike after moving to a(nother) new location. She knows the right things to do, sees the progress on paper, yet struggles with identity. This post doesn’t offer a lot of answers, but offers validation of the struggle. I really appreciate that.
“So why mock that ever so helpful list, after all the tried and tested remedy for loneliness is the same the world over and it’s not wrong. My problem with the list is that we aren’t always looking for advice, sometimes what a trailing spouse needs is recognition.”

Recommended Reading: July 9th, 2018

Welcome to this week’s edition of Recommended Reading! I don’t have a particular theme for this week. Instead, here’s a collection of posts I’ve read recently that I feel have something of value to offer expat and TCK communities around the world.

10 Alternatives to ‘Where are you from?’
Multicultural Kid Blogs
I love this!! “Where are you from?” is one of those questions that just roll of our tongues when we meet people. It’s not an easy question, for a lot of expats, and especially for TCKs. Yet it still takes effort to rewire our brains (and mouths!) to ask different questions. Also, I’ve found when I take the initiative to ask different questions, I get asked those sorts of questions in return. And I find them much easier to answer myself! I’ll add my own favourite to this list: “Where were you living before this?” It has a concrete answers, rather than a subjective one, while still offering an invitation to share some of their story.

But What’s So Different about Being an Expat Family, Anyway?
Velvet Ashes
Yet another helpful reflection from Rachel as her TCKs prepare to leave for university in their passport country. Her daughter wonders aloud how her life is different to that of peers in her passport country. What I love most is that while Rachel expresses some of the differences she sees, she also knows she can’t answer this question for her kids. She rests on the values their family holds close, and trusts that her kids will work it out as they live and grow.
I can’t explain to my twins how their childhood has affected them. They’ll need to discover the answer to that question on their own. I couldn’t begin to articulate one. I have ideas, but sometimes the only way to answer our deep questions is to experience a contrast, to set our question and our experience against something new, opposing, different.

Expat Homesickness – 3 Ways to Deal with it and Heal from it
Talaera Thoughts
This is a great post in which Stephanie reflects openly on her experience of culture shock, homesickness, and resulting depression. (And reminded me a little of my own post on expat homesickness.) She gives some great advice. I was particularly touched by the gentleness of her first point – to be your own parent. By this she means to speak kind and comforting words over yourself. This is so important!
My mom would never tell me to just “suck it up”! She would give me permission to feel sad and depressed. This is a crucial step because I need to allow myself the feeling before I ever stand a chance of extracting myself from the pain. . .If your mom was mean, be a kind and gentle version of your mom because she is what you need right now.

See, Say, Spell, Repeat
Mudroom
What do you do when you feel caught between cultures, and your name reflects one of those cultures strongly? Prasanta discusses her journey of identity and what’s in a name.
I was raised in the U.S., but you aren’t sure of that by looking at me. . . since we think and speak alike, I wondered if it would help to have a name that does sound like you. I thought it would be taking down a barrier — a big one — between us. I couldn’t change my skin color, which was Big Barrier #1. But, I could change this. Maybe it would make a difference. Maybe it would make it easier for you to talk to me. And admittedly, I wanted to make it easier for myself as well.

Territory and Third Culture Kids – Building our Safe Places
Life Story
Rachel was advised to keep her cat inside for a month after moving before letting her outside in order to help her with the transition. Rachel expands this concept to wonder how taking the time to fix ourselves in a place might give TCKs (and other global nomads) a sense of security so many seem to lack. Such a fascinating idea!
It is only because Jack knew her own home so well, that she was able to return to it safely at the end of the day. It was only because she’d spent so much time in it that she was able to feel it as her safe place. . .having home to run to is precisely what made out there safe to explore. . .Safe places are shelters. Shelters are, by nature, boundaried in some way. There is an out there and an in here. We use them to retreat from the elements, and their borders give us rest.

Expat reunions are a thing of wonder
The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide
A lovely post on the unique beauty (and deep emotion) of expat reunions. When you have the opportunity to spend time with someone who lived that part of your life with you, who knows those places and people, who you don’t have to explain those things to – wow. What a blessing!
Saying goodbye is hard because you really have no idea when, or if, you will see them again. But when you do – and I do believe the ones that are really important to you will pop up again sooner or later – you instantly connect again over the experiences that only you shared. . .As we move on with our lives, the memories of our expat days fade. But friendships will often out-last those memories and when we get together the years fall away and we are back living together in those distant lands.

Travel Is No Cure for the Mind
Medium
This post is a modern adaptation of Seneca’s letter to Lucilius about travel. The main point is that novelty gives way to routine no matter where we are; the solution is not a new place, but a new mindset. I found it helpful in a few ways. When people ask about your “exciting” or “exotic” life, it can help to explain that actually, you live an ordinary routine just like them, only in a different place. Also, the mindset advice is so key to enjoying life abroad – especially for those who weren’t too keen on making a particular move. Gratitude and curiosity are powerful tools!

Recommended Reading: July 2nd, 2018

Welcome to this week’s edition of Recommended Reading! This week I’ve collected a few recent posts on the theme of leaving the expat life. It seems fitting for this time of year, and after collecting this list I realised that my recent posts on transition and how to do it well are a good accompaniment to the rest of the list, not to mention my reflection on high school graduation for TCKs.

Some of the posts on this list are about TCKs repatriating, either after finishing high school or with a family. Others are about expats generally. Some are about decision making, some offer practical advice, and some reflect on the emotion of it all. I’m so glad there are so many different voices out there for us all to listen to and learn from – we need all these perspectives!

When “Home” isn’t a Place– The Challenges of Repatriation for Expat Kids
Expat Kids Club
This piece provides a great foundation for considering the emotional impact of repatriation on TCKs. Kate reflects on six aspects: identity, role, change, culture, grief, and benefits. It’s hard to pick a single quote to share – it’s all good, solid stuff!

Arriving “Home”: an Expat Paradox
Taking Route
I love this thoughtful piece on all the little things that contribute to the beautiful mess that is returning “home” after time away.
The first few days are a firehose of new information, new places, new smells, new tastes — and varied emotion. It’s crying over things that broke in the suitcase and fretting over stuff you’re sure you packed somewhere. It’s being thrilled with a restaurant just down the street and being disappointed when something should taste familiar and doesn’t.

Leaving well when leaving well is not possible
The Culture Blend
I really appreciate this post. There is a lot of talk in the expat/TCK world about how to leave well. It’s something I write and talk about myself. But in this piece Jerry stops to reflect on a painful reality – sometimes leaving well is simply outside our control. This whole post is worth taking time to slowly read and reflect on. Here’s a couple of little gems:
Sometimes leaving is a mess, not a choice. . .Plans get made — sometimes they work. When they don’t, here are some things to consider. . .Leaving is a process — not a moment. . .PLANE RIDES DON’T end relationships. Soak in that for a moment.

Third Culture Kids, College, and Culture Shock
A Life Overseas
Rachel reflects on college visits with her twin TCKs who are now preparing to repatriate and begin their university studies. She talks through some culture shock moments – such as vocabulary, wardrobe choices, and what is considered interesting and important. The aspect I most appreciate about this post is the way Rachel points out that the misunderstandings and judging go both ways – and gently warns TCKs to watch out for their own attitudes.
Yes, some people think Kenya is a city near Africa. Even college-bound people. And correct, no one knows what a Djibouti is. Again, sorry. And again, try not to judge. Remember how you didn’t know what broomball was? . . .Everyone has a lot to learn and that’s a huge part of what college is for.

15 Things I Want Tell My Graduating Third Culture Kid Seniors
Djibouti Jones
And another post by Rachel, this time with thoughts and advice for her kids as she sends them off into new lives. Lots of good stuff in here, with thoughtfulness that shows an understanding of some of the difficult aspects – as well as the opportunities – of repatriating for university. For example:
Don’t be afraid to ask questions or to ask for help. People might think it is strange that you don’t know something they think is normal American life, but most of the time, they will also enjoy helping you and you never know what friendship might come of it. Be humble.

Culture shock in the same country
Bonnyville Nouvelle
This is a sweet little post about how transition stress goes with any big change – even moving to a new place within the same country! Author Robynne was an international orientation leader while at university, so she understood about culture shock etc. But she was surprised to find these lessons apply to HER as she processes a recent domestic move.
“I originally didn’t think the move would be that big of a deal for me, if I’m being completely honest. Unlike the international students at UOIT, I wasn’t leaving the country, I was just going over a couple of provinces, and driving through a couple of time zones. No big deal, right? Wrong. . .I realized that there was going to be an orientation period for me once I got out here, but I had no idea how much I would doubt myself during this transition.”

How To Welcome Her Back for the First Time
Velvet Ashes
Amy reflects on her first time visiting her family in her passport country after living abroad. Then she offers advice on welcoming well. There is a gentleness about this – the suggestions of leaving space, expecting change, accepting where the person is at. While this is a blog for missionaries, this post was full of helpful reflections for expats generally, as well as their passport country friends and family.
You all have changed. You all are changing. And you all are still the same because you are friends and family. This, of the first visit back, is rich with paradox.

The Last Week – A Graduation Story for the TCK
Communicating Across Boundaries
In this lovely vignette Marilyn reflects on her own high school graduation as a TCK. She introduces the piece with these poignant words:
We [Third Culture Kids] are not only leaving a school – we are leaving a home, a community, and a country. While most kids can go back home without a reason, the third culture kid cannot. The third culture kid does not only say goodbye to a school, they say goodbye to a life. Graduation for the TCK is a type of deportation.

Seven things expats should consider before moving back home
Expat.com
This is a simple but helpful piece with a list of things to consider when thinking about repatriation. There are no easy answers, but a solid guide to some of the things that may affect your life after repatriation, and how to take these into account when considering a move “home”.